tv Sheila Tate Lady in Red CSPAN August 8, 2018 9:47pm-10:50pm EDT
sheila tate was press secretary for nancy reagan from 1981 to 1985. "lady in red" is a memoir of her time in the spring of the white house biography of nancy reagan and a collection of interviews with friends of the first lady. she talked about her book at the reagan library in simi valley california. this is an hour. >> ladies and gentlemen please welcome mrs. sheila tate. [applause] >> i was so late i thought i had
better get here. [laughter] good evening, again. for those of you that i have not met my name is joanne drake and the ice surface achievement as -- administrator for their ronald reagan is the data i want to welcome you here. her condition here in honor of our men and women who wear the uniform of this country and around the world we ask that you us in the pledge of the flag and i will ask you to remain standing for a moment of silence in honor of our former first lady barbara bush. i pledge allegiance to the flag of the united states of america and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under god, indivisible with liberty andnd justice for all.
thank you. please be seated. i want to thank all of you for coming out tonight in bearing with us. you know what we reference there. in addition to our honored guest this evening sheila tate we have a few special guests that i want nt point out. first of course we have doctored john you'll is with us tonight. [applause] we also have some of my former colleagues and some of sheila's former colleagues and colleagues at the whiteme house with us tonight. one of sheila's close colleagues barbara cook who was she was assistant press secretary. she was on backup in case sheila really did get caught in traffic no well or rodriguez is with us
tonight. [applause] and i'm also thrilled to have some of my former reagan-bush colleagues here. we have kathy nailer and windy orchard who served in various positions around the reagan bush cabinetn and very glad that you have all joined us tonight. it's great. [applause] our speaker this evening has been a part of the reagan family since the early 1980s. she served as press secretary to first lady nancy reagan from 1981 until 1985. after leaving the white house she went back to the world of public relations and started her own public firm with another white house secretary jody powell from the other side of the aisle. in 1988 sheila went back to being a press secretary, this time to then vice president george h.w. bush during his campaign for the presidency and president-elect during the transition.
in 1999 pr week doug sheila one of those 50 most powerful women in public relations and in 2001 she was named one of the 100 most powerful women in washington by washingtonian magazine she was not only nancy reagan's press secretary but she was a very dear friend. ladies and gentlemen is my pleasure tond welcome sheila tae to our stage this evening. [applause] >> lordy, lordy. [laughter] i did bring my specs because i'm a little older these days. i have read the book and i thoroughly enjoyed it. the flight back from washington d.c.. it was fun. it was memorable.
there were a lot of personal stories and a lot of things i remember. there was a lot of backstage behind the scenes information that i hadn't known about but all of it was centered towards public events and i'm wondering if you could tell us first how do you become a press secretary to the first lady of united the united states and give us your first impressions of nancy reagan. >> well, i carefully planned the whole thing. not. i was working at the time. my boss was a guy named bob gray who was well-known in republican circles and yet taken a lead and gone over to the campaign as the communications director. they called me one day in mid-december and said i need your resume and i need it right away. there's this white housese job
that i think you qualify for. i just want to put your name and a knife out work on the campaign i did robo calling for john connolly. remember he got one delegate says -- i got him a lot of money but at any rate i sent him the resume and he called me back and he said warehouse at 6:00. so i scrambled to make myself presentable. i'm starting to figure out it's got to be -- i didn't think it was ronald reagan because he is already named jim brady. and i was so nervous that i had to sit on my hands like this as they were shaking. i had never met a first lady
before and she was very kind to me. she asked me a few questions but mainly she wanted to talk about what she was interested in doing. she kept telling me how concerned she was about the whole problem of youth drug abuse. i remember thinking what are your qualifications for that issue? i wasn't sure from a pr standpoint that were that would be a viable option. i forgot what aer platform she d anyway, the next day i got a call and they set me up with a series of meetings ending with my personal hero jim brady. he said you know it's down to two people. i said in that case i want the
job t. he said well i am voting for you. two hours later she called. that was a friday night and on saturday night i was awakened by my phone ringing and it was the "washington post" because somebody had leaked the story that they weren't going to get out until monday. it was my introduction to the life of the press secretary. we are going to get into the book a little bit up before we do that it's been a sad week in this country certainly and we are very sensitive to that here at the presidential library. i wonder if you, having tread many white houses and overlaps many first ladies i wondered if you could give us a little insight into the relationship between these two later -- ladies because i'm certain that
question would come up anyway and share a story or two about mrs. bush as a tribute. >> i came to understand after i left the white>> house that mrs. bush and mrs. reagan were not terribly close. i have to honestly tell c you i had noon sense of it while i was working. one thing you have to know about nancy reagan is she treats staff professionally and she does not gossip in that regard. i had no idea. the first idea i honestly had was the first plane trip i took with george h.w. bush on the campaign in 88, we are getting off the plane and he said sheila wright in the limo with me. he said what is the problem between nancy and my wife?
i said what you talking about? he said they just don't get along. i said honestly i never saw it. i never knew it and the subject never came up t again. but mrs. bush called me and told me how thrilled she was that i would be working for her husband and then she gave me the list of a set of t instructions which i cherished. the most important was that every time you go to a hotel and gather up all the shampoos and soaps and everything, put them in a bag and bring them to her. she took all this stuff to a homeless shelter on her own. she figured she wanted -- she had tags this big. barbara bush was an extraordinary person i thought. i found her veryy funny but she
couldn't tolerate being singled out and praised. one time for instance the day before the election i said to igeorge bush, you know you were going to win, don't you? admit it. he said no, i don't know that and he started to walk away and he saidil but i will tell you something if i do win this country is going to fall in love with barbara bush. he was right. you have seen the black pearl necklace and a poster that is up on highways now. she's an extraordinary woman. the staff was afraid ofin her. she said what she thought. the one thing i know barbara and i talked to the staff about and
mrs. bush would bring me a picture. she'd say look what i did and i would say it looks to me like you sat and read a book with someone who looks like santa claus she said no, it's a children's reading thing that i said you've got to have children in it. you don't need a man with a beard. she would have another picture where she was sitting in somebody's some low-level staff office with all junk around and i said a picture is supposed to reinforce what your messages and this one is very confusing because there is all the stuff in it. i don't know why you were there or anything. they got better at that but that was one of the things that i was surprised in all the vice president so years that she hadn't learned. i think it's probably just because she didn't really care about things like that.
>> i think everyone would agree with me that one of the hardest jobs in this country has got to be that of the first lady of the united states. i suppose it could be argued that in her press secretary is no clock in the park either. can you pick up on those first months of the administration and if your time with her. tell us a little bit about the evolution of nancy reagan has first lady the relationship with the press, where you fit into that maybe a tidbit or two on the way about her designer gowns and then lay out the story of the famous gridiron dinner in march of 1982. >> we are going to be here a while. >> i want to know how yount kept it a secret from ronald reagan. .. for
everybody. we spent the better part of a year this stepping side stepping meeting that there was too much attention being paid to refurbishing the white house or redecorating the raised $1 million to do that from five we did need new china and china by the way has by the way has been ordered in the white house on average every 15 years.
they break the mold and so you really don't have any choice after a period of time but to bring in a new set of begin mixing and matching which is also a nice thing to do. there's too much against the backdrop of the recession at the time. the press worked anyway because the stories have been circulating that she had wished that they would move out early. i'm sure if she said anything it was i would really like more time to do something with that place.
she said she never said anything like that this is before i got this. thing goodness and my much later business partner said you know the one thing we all really disliked the way you talked about the residents of. i thought thaton was a pretty gd way to handle that. so, anyway, we were getting they start doing these popularity polls. she was ready to turn the page and that is when our staff gave
into the insistence on her working on this issue of drug abuse and at the same time in the march of 82 we knew that the annual dinner was coming up and that the chances of escaping were slim to none so we had a little conversation with helen thomas who was an active member and she brought over charlie mcdowell who was the president of the club and nancy agreed she would be amenable to a little song and dance routine. they already had the lyrics of the song that they were going to sing about her and they gave it to me and gave a copy of how
they thought she should respond and respond was kind of a back of the hand to the press. we brought him an incredible speechwriter and the new she had to made fun of herself this was her chance. the one thing she said please if we have too keep it a secret because i don't want the president to know about it. she said if i can focus and surprise him i won't be nervous, so that was her thinking and there was a great story in the book he was in charge of keeping things close backstage.
if you see the picture -- >> we have the outfit for you all to observe and enjoy a. so she kept saying she was nervous and kept going back to check on it. so come at one point i really have to go to the bathroom so he races into the men's room and says all of the urinals are busy. he runs into a stall and says i forgoti i was wearing a white te and tails so the rest of the evening i had a white tie and by
details. i was given some fabulous stories. >> now that you mention, we probably ought to share one little tidbit. normally they go out on the south lawn to what we call the diplomatic reception room and they wait for the arrival of their state visitors to. it was so cold they moved every one that was a part of the ceremony to the diplomatic reception room so it was like this. it was packed.
>> she notices immediately that the pantyhose have basically collapsed and he noticed it and watched this happen and said nobody else saw this happen to. right around the corner to the ladiesco room everything got fixed. she came back outas and nobody s the wiser. they felt that means he had done more for the soviet relations more than anyone else ever could and still is a very committed communist she continued to lecture and she t didn't like to be lectured to. they didn't getet along for a lg
time and then at the end of the term when they all met in new york, nancy said they were completely changed. she was friendly and nice and invited them to come to russia and in fact they said they all went and had a wonderful time. >> one of the stories i was in the book that we've spoken about is the two korean children who both give credit for literally saving their lives. we have a gentleman here this evening who was involved in the story. [applause]
i'm hoping you can get more information and to bring a story to life. >> unless you are a surgeon like somebody sitting here, how many people have the chance to save somebody's life. she not only helped save those two children. there's another child i talked to in the course of writing this book and they wer it the most mg moments i had when writing this book. it turned out, and robert may be able to shed a light on this. it turned out these beautiful children, they were like seven and four. one he had a heart defect and they couldn't walk more than a few steps without turning blue. they would have to get down and
breathe and get their color back before they could take a few more steps. just as we were leaving for south korea, we got a special request asking the ambassador to continue meeting these families to see if there was a way she couldn't get them back to the united states and because they didn't have the ability of the time. as the staff normally does, they said if you do it for one, you have to do it for everybody. no, no, one at a time you want to do this. we brought these children back on air force one and i can still
see i'm getting ahead of myself, but the little boy pretended to type on his computer the whole way back. nancy took them up to st. francis hospital on long island where the surgery was performed and unbeknownst to me the children ended up being adopted by an american family and they lived in arizona and then they moved into the pacific midwest. but his name was brad a -- brett halperson.
here seen a picture when nancy reagan took him to the hospital and when he really realized she had actually saved his life, he wrote a note and told her how grateful he was for that and she invited him to this library of ththenight tony snow was speakio he came to the dinner and said he ended up going to seoul where he works for the gift of life internationalio that started ths whole thing. he brings children from other countries to where the various surgeries are performed. so we talked and then one saturday morning i just had a note from him not long ago he is
engaged to be married. i sent him this book. it's not that big. you know what it costs to send a book to korea? if you send it to up ups is $22. by the post office at his 70 plus he got 70-dollar book but it was worth every bit. that is the kind of thing that can transform somebody when they have the ability to save someone's life if changes them. and i think that nancy was changed. she went up to see them at the hospital.e they gave her all these christmas presents and it was an amazingg experience for all of us.
>> march 30, 1981, a day that had significant impact and of course this is the day john hinckley junior attempted to assassinate the president to impress actress as it turns out. mrs. reagan wasn't with him at the event but she was at her own luncheon and i am hoping you can pick up from there and tell your side of it from that point on. >> we were at the national trust for historic preservation that have a lunch in her honor to a clean her with what they do. towards the end, she caught my eye and basically signaled that she was ready to go so she made
her pleasantries and then we left. by the way, we later recognized by the time she was leaving almost exactly to the minute this time he was shot. we were five minutes from the white house. i go to my office and she goes to the residence as i walk in the, there's nobody in the office and the phone is ringing which is unusual. i pick it up as a reporter for the washington star. she says the capitol police radio report is that there were shocked at the washington hilton. do you know anything about it. i said no and they ran back towards the residence. she ran backes this way. we went back to the hospital in
spite of the fact they didn't want her to. no one knew what was going on. >> i think she even said we are going to the hospital and they said a few weeks we will drive you over. forget i will walk. at that point you didn't even know he'd been shot. >> no, he just found out and told her. it was the same. a lot of it was chaotic. i was trying to figure out how i could be useful. she went to the chapel. i went back downstairs and
started talking to the nurses. i need a list of anyone that is part of the party i need to know what hospital. she gave me a list and i walked about 10 feet before i found out that it wasn't true but that was the most affordabl portable thrs of my life. but there was a false news report that he had died. it was a reporthere was a reporo that can't on an airplane after driving from greeley colorado to go to an airplane and heard on the radio that her father was dead. she flew all the way to
washington believing that her father was dead. the next day, i saw him and if my head is a normal head size, his head is this big and he was shot right there. it's just horrible. nancy was so quiet that whole night. the next day i was sitting in a room adjacent to the presidents room with ron and patti and they were riding out statements they wanted o to make a and you would hear this constant smacking sound. they are pounding his back to keep him from getting an infection and she would wince like this every time she would
hear that sound. and i can still hear that sound when i think about it. but she took a she started figuring out how to make him better and as soon as he was allowed to walk and they wanted him to come at he still had a syringe hanging off his arm and everything she would walk him down the hall and they would pretend to be banned in. he brought in any card anyone had ever sent. all of the walls were filled with cars. it was so traumatic first of all she lost 10 pounds and could end have 10 pounds.
>> did it change the way she operated in thee white house do you think? >> i knew that she was terrified every time the president left the white house because she felt like that was the only safe place. and as a result of that, something you may have called a astrology entered the picture. did it change her security at all? >> nancy reagan embraced it. there is a great story about her lead agent who's never talked to
anybody he actually sent me copies of notes they had exchanged today at the hospital he went on to the chapel and he handed her a handkerchief and said to her there's nothing we can do now but pray. she wrote a note back and he shared that with me and i put that in the book as well. after they rotate because they don't want them to become complacent in theirco assignment or too comfortable with it. so george was her lead agent for six years and one day he was told he had to go into the oval office to see the head of the
secretim service and the president. he goes in and they tell him the secret service is transferring him off of the detail but george is the one that is going to have to tell her they were taking her favorite agent away. >> that a happened in her final agent had a promise from the secret service director that her agent would stay with her until she died and it actually happened, but that was the worst day in everyone's life everyone on her detail had to transfer out. >> we arere going to go to questions in the audience in a minute that i have a story that
i want to she to tell. i have never heard it before. a group will go out in advance. she didn't do it that often but apparently she was out and about and she did up in las vegas. you know where i'm headed here. the story was very funny so i thought maybe you can tell that and then we will go to questions in the audience. >> frankston not sur -- frink s- frank sinatra was going out to speak on drug abuse.
the whole detail is in the book. there were a lot of stories where some of the friends created problems just by trying toto be overly helpful. my favorite was the famous producer of annie and the wonderful broadway shows a. he decided he wanted her to come from the basement in an elevator that would rise up to the main floor on the stage but the doors would open and all of the gray smoke and steam would come out.
you're the one i called the hysterical about that one. so i told them we were not doing it. we are going to take questions. we would ask that you have the microphone in your hand and if you don't, we can't here and the people at home cannot hear your questions. >> i was going to ask about the title of your book. then i noticed you mentioned
your hairdresser. i would like to know more about that. >> charlottesville is a small town and everybody knows everybody's b business and the best place to find out about anything is to go to your hairdresser so i was sitting in the chair and the editors said we've got to come up with a na name. kimberly said what is the title going to be and i said i don't know. she said that the lady in red. so i said what do you think about this and she said i just met with our staff. we like it and we are putting off t the end it's "lady in red" so before i even had my hair
dry, we had the title of the book. of course the portrait is the official portrait so that is more appropriate. >> this is important t to be a separate contract was issued and this book is now also available in large type. the picture pictures couldn't be book but the large type book is there for anyone who needs it so i'm thrilled with that. >> are there any other questions, right here in the back row. >> i wondered if you can talk about the love between them because it seems you always have this glaze when she would look
towards the president. the letters, the things that were said, this lasted a long time. >> reporters love to make fun of her and she thought if someone were speaking she was taught it was polite to look at them when they spoke and she felt that way about anyone speaking but she wouldn't change just because the press thought it was stupid. but it was a deep and abiding love affair between the two of them. i remember the first day he was declared to start working half the day after the shooting she and i were going somewhere and just started out theta door ande
comes literally running down the hall and she's like slow down. i can't help it it's just my boyish exuberance. [laughter] anybody else? then we will go down the end. >> when i met mrs. reagan i was shaking. >> i had this impression that i was going to meet the wicked witch of the north. shortly after everybody had left the room, she was on the floor with these kids she loves them
and they loved her and i was absolutely dumbfounded. my question, as brief as the experience was, confirmed by your book i think it is fabulous that you told that story. my question is why do we treat our leaders who are in this case sensational people, good, kind, compassionate so badly what is it about us that we have to go out and make everything look bad and can we do anything about it? >> it goes back to the early days of the founding of the country. mary todd lincoln, martha washington, they were all criticized in some of the stuff that went on a we have a long
history. we have a two-party system and they get all a riled up that in the end, somebody like nancy reagan comes in and gets through it. she turned her image around and she did it for her husband. the criticism went from here to like that and people started to recognize that she was a woman of substance. every presidency is different but there's always controversy to put it politely.
it's so good to see you. i bought the book tonight and i had the chance to read it. some c of this may be in the bok but in case it's not, i want you to talk about the relationship withhi the white house residence staff. the reason i that comes to minds when i worked for laura the one time and only time they met hers when nancy came back to the white housese and -- i had a vision of the white house being practically giddy because they were going to get the chance to seeoi her and at that point it d been a number of years she had been backed. can you talk about the staff that transcend the administration's? >> wonderful people. some of them serve 50 years,
justin credible people. i think almost every first lady tends to really depend on the residence s staff and she was no exception. i experienced just with the staff. i got some stories from them and in fact they were invited to attend the dedication of the library. >> i have some fellow staff members where all of these people the hardest part was
telling them some have to stay because there' there is a new re at the white house. they have to have them all out at the same time it's going to be a little difficult. >> howley franklin and charlie palmer did was that time they got to sit next to charlton heston. but nancy on the plane walked all the way back to find charlie and had tears in her eyes when she finally saw him she was excited s to see them. it's very unusual for a presidential couple not to feel that way about the residential staff int and the people that me their lives so much easier.
>> the press seems to often misunderstand but she did have a relationship with mike wallace and i wonder if you can tell us a little aboutt that. >> mike wallace had a radio program in chicago and when she moved to chicago she gave up her acting career basically to chicago but what she would do occasionally is sit down and talketalk to mike wallace on the radio. mikeke loved her. there are some great stories she
liked to tell jokes, some of them a little bit inappropriate. but she is hilariously funny. when mike wallace found out years later governor reagan married eb's daughter, the next step is when they went to the white house, mike called chris wallace who was new at nbc at the time and introduced nancy and chris and they were like this. w mike wallace could do no harm. i could hardly breathe because i know as much as he likes her i know he could go in for the
kill. he is a news man first and foremost. they sometimes got mad at each other but they always ended up being friends again. >> one of the things you and i have talked about, those of us that were privileged enough to work with and for her over the years came to know the real nancy reagan. there may be days we were not as fond of her as other days that we did with her and buy one or if you could just tell us as we finish up here what do we think about her that caused this constant misunderstanding and
embarrass her husband were creative problem so she was always as careful as she could be and that ends up with you keeping yourself to yourself. what is it about her that you think people should no? >> what was interesting to me, for a woman that had never had a staff until the white house the first thing she said if i will always take your calls. the press knows they can get an answer and i will be able to tellve them what they need. that was imported over a period of time and she was always true to her word. i might have called her ten
times when something was breaking that she sai but she st don't want to be surprised. >> talk before you respond if it's something you don't quite know how i feel. and the day i left, she said from now on i want to call me nancy. 1998 my husband died, had a heart attack and dropped dead. her father had told her grieving people need to cry and you should help your friends cry. she called me once a week and made me get on the phone with her and i was trying to bill by the hour at the company we would have a crying fest that is the kind of and she became.
we went from a professional relationship to a friendship you cannot have a better friend than nancy reagan and that is the truth she was famous for keeping secrets. if you told her something in confidence if never went anywhere else. you could take that to the bank. i'm thrilled all of you came. thank you for sharing all of this. there are so many fun stories and insights into the white house, nancy reagan, ronald reagan. what goes on behind the scenes as. i think it is a little bit different than it is today. we didn't have messages going out in the middle of the night or social media that we had a great deal of respect.
we didn't have cell phones, we have pagers that we knew that you probably were not going to hear back from someone on till the next morning unless there was an emergency. it was never so happy as to get rid of it. the radios we literally called them bricks. i suppose we had fake news. i think all of you for coming and i hope you will come back for the next event in a couple of. weeks. if you don't have a copy yet you can get one before you go into the line or you can get one outside of the store.
i can't explain the feeling feet you have during a school shooting. one thing i can relate to the feelinthatfeeling of anxiety of uselessness, not being able to do anything. there's only one other place i felt bad. the united states congress. it might sound like a funny remark but it's no joke i've spoken with legislators across the board, senators, representatives, and not one single person is confident that anything can be done about the people that died in my school and the others that have died
since. >> texas is facing an immigration crisis. we have a thousand people a day moving to the state of texas. people talk about building a wall and we are fed up with the federal government by giving it job search here is what texas is going to do, it's going to come out of our own budget and we are going to build the wall with this difference instead of building on the border between texas and mexico, we are going to build a wall between texas and new mexico to keep them from coming into the state of texas.
>> [inaudible] what we are hearing are the cries of immigrant children have been separated from their parents at the border detention facility. and there is an audio that i obtained a month and a half ago or so with the help of a lawyer, civil rights attorney and she had obtained this tape and thought it was imported and shared it with me and asked what i thought about it and i told her i thought we should try to publish it. it was not an easy decision for the source of the tape who felt they could put her at risk for
being identified and fired, but the source ultimately agreed to allow me to publish the audio >> ginger thompson talks about covering mexico and the government's immigration policy. writes about the political career of kennedy shriver sister jean, robert and ted kennedy. they also talk about the book the politics and prose bookstore in washington. this is one hour. >> good afternoon, everybody. thank you for coming out to politics and prose on this